This is a period film set in the 1920s, based on a short
story by Rabindranath Tagore..
A tender romance blossoming in Kolkata between law student Ramesh and his friend’s sister Hemnalini, is nipped suddenly when his father sends an urgent and mysterious summons from his village home. There, the dutiful son is peremptorily ordered to marry Susheela, daughter of a hapless widow. Ramesh refuses. Confesses that his heart belongs to another. But the widow’s fervent plea softens him ultimately. And he concedes, albeit with a heavy heart. The wedding takes place with due ceremony; and Ramesh sets out with his bride on a river boat journey back to Kolkata.
Soon a fierce storm arises; the boat tosses helplessly and finally capsizes in the churning waters. Later that night, Ramesh comes to his senses on a deserted shore under a starlit sky. Some distance away, he sees the unconscious form of a young bride. Her pulse is still beating, and in response to his voice calling ‘Susheela’ she opens her eyes at last. There is no one else in sight, alive or dead. The two move off, take a train to Kolkata, the bride wondering why they were not going to Kashi, but trusting his judgment implicitly.
Hem, his true love, knows nothing of all this. Ramesh has been missing from the evening of her birthday party. They have learnt of his hasty departure from the city, but nothing else. Though she pines inwardly, she is confident that he will return soon.
Back in Ramesh’s new home in Kolkata, the facts of mistaken identity gradually come to light. She is Kamala not Susheela. Her husband is a doctor named Nalinaksha Chatterjee. Ramesh writes an advertisement to trace his whereabouts; but he does not have the heart to break this news to the helpless trusting young girl in his care. He puts her into a boarding school instead. But soon, Hem’s would be suitor Akshay comes to know of Ramesh’s secret and brings proof positive to Hem. Ramesh, unable to handle such a scandal, seeks hiding in Gorakhpur with Kamala.
A devastated Hem is brought to Kashi by her father to help her forget. There she meets Nalinaksha and they warm up to each other.
Kamala in the meanwhile having read the advertisement in an old newspaper, realizes the enormity of the lie she has been living, and walks out determined to drown herself in the river. Ramesh returns and finds her suicide note, searches everywhere to no avail. He does not know that she has been rescued by a courtesan and deposited in Kashi under Nalinaksha’s mother’s care. Kamala now sees her real husband for the first time, but cannot speak up, for he is betrothed to Hem.
Finally, the advertisement she keeps knotted in her saree is discovered, and the whole truth comes to light. Ramesh finally traces Nalinaksha and arrives at his house.
The whole sorry mess raises many questions of head and heart and the validity or otherwise of social conventions. We are left wondering whether true love will finally triumph.
How does one go about adapting a popular Rabindranath Tagore novel that`s filled with melodramatic coincidences without making it look like a distant cousin of a Hindi potboiler written by Gulshan Nanda rather than Tagore?
Ghosh has earlier done a delicately-drawn Tagore portrait on celluloid in "Chokher Bali". Some of the cast in "Kashmakash" was also part of "Chokher Bali". Raima Sen is common to both. And honestly one can`t tell the difference between her two personas in the two Tagore adaptations by Ghosh.
Ghosh seems to have dressed Raima up in the same saris and jewellery in both. Sure, she plays a far more educated and urbane woman in "Kashamash". But the physical reality of Raima`s character is determined in both cases by the director`s Bangla aesthetics rather than the demand of the theme. The saris are more Tollygunj than Tagore.
The eye for detail remains impeccable. Ghosh creates the turmoil of the Bengal in the 1920s with glorious gusto. If god lies in the details, then "Kashmakash" is a psalm in silvery shades. Tragically, a devil of a mundaneness shrouds the film`s breathtaking recreation of an era when women exuded grace and men inhaled that grace without getting libidinous.
Though there are two weddings in "Kashmaksh", there is no sex. Not that Ghosh has ever been shy of depicting lovemaking. In "Antar Mahal", he had made Jackie Shroff do unmentionable things to Soha Ali Khan in a bed that creaked suggestively.
In "Kashmakash", there`s no scope for all this. It`s the story of fugitive intimacy between a man and a woman who are thrown together as man and wife during stormy circumstances. The rest is a "mishti" mystique filmed in vignettes of stolen giggles and heaving bosoms.
Ghosh builds up the storm nicely, but eventually it appears restricted to a teacup. It`s a very elegant cup but nonetheless pretty emasculated in its epic energy.
What ails "Kashamaksh" is the absence of a sexual energy. Jishu Sengupta, a fine actor and a Ghosh favourite, portrays the anguish of an `educated` (read: inhibited) man married to the wrong woman, with the kind of bridled decorum that you wait to break free. It never does.
"Kashmakash" builds up to a storm that culminates in a whimpering winter of pale shades.
The use of Rabindra Sangeet in Hindi is as botchy and misguided as any effort to translocate a fragile cultural artifact from its roots to an alien landscape. The Tagore melodies that usually bring an ache in your heart here leave you with a pang of embarrassment. Turn the page, please.
Riya Sen takes care of the rest. As the timid bride who ends up in the wrong bed, her voice is dubbed by whiny wimpy woman`s throat that sounds more fake than a bottle of cognac filled with hooch. Voice apart, Riya is hopelessly miscast.
Prosenjit in a thanklessly abbreviated part is effective. So is the capable Dhritiman Chatterjee as Raima`s father. The father-daughter scenes exude the scent of serenity and grace, sadly denied to the rest of this feeble adaptation.
What redeems "Kashmakash" and finally makes it worth a lingering dekko is the warmth and romance that Ghosh brings to his celluloid adaptation. The director clearly loves his characters and actors.